Monday is chosen because it is the evening before the grand opening of CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival, an annual event that is one of the highlights in any beer drinker’s calendar. It used to be a highlight on mine too, but after not really enjoying the final GBBF I attended (the last festival before the disruption cause by the pandemic), I vowed 2019’s event would be my last.
The grand opening is actually a trade event, at least until 5pm when the general public are finally allowed in. CAMRA’S definition of “trade” is actually very loose, and the invite basically extends to anyone with even the most tenuous of links to the worlds of pubs, beer, and brewing. Pubs that featured in the Good Beer Guide would usually receive a wadge of tickets, in order to arrange a “jolly” to the festival for the licensee and pub customers, and the same applied to breweries and their staff.Sambrook’s Brewery, in Wandsworth, south-west London, was a most appropriate one. Sambrook’s were founded in 2008 by Duncan Sambrook, and from humble beginnings in their original Battersea home, have gone on to become a major success story. Producing a thoughtful and well-regarded beers range of beers, covering much of the brewing spectrum.
The party was in full swing when I arrived, 30-40 minutes later than intended, and the same time interval since the event had officially opened. A number of the guests were sat at tables, situated on the outdoor patio area, but most were inside, crammed around the bar and seating area on the ground floor. I noticed a bank of hand-pumps offering some of Sambrook’s cask range, whilst further long the bar, an array of keg taps was offering a much more extensive series of beers.
I opted for the latter, having made the decision to stick with halves, in order to sample as many as was wise, given the fact I was due in at the following morning. I didn’t quite “complete the card,” as some of my drinking friends would say, but I did get to enjoy some excellent beers. Six halves, equating to three pints, was just the right amount, but I still arrived home later than intended, due to an incident, said to have occurred elsewhere on the rail network. That’s another story though, and one which doesn’t contribute anything to this narrative.⅓ pint of the latter!
From a social point of view, it was good to catch up with a few familiar faces, including the aforementioned BryanB and Rochdale & Oldham CAMRA legend, Tandleman, who was down for his usual stint working the foreign beer bar at GBBF, known as Biers sans Frontiers. There were quite a few other faces I recognised but, as Tandleman remarked to me, there were plenty of unfamiliar faces as well. We concluded that many must have been corporate members of the BGBW, important for the Guild to attract, and important for them too.
We both had a chat with one such person, but I won’t embarrassing him by revealing which brewery he currently works for. He was the individual I mentioned in my previous post about Greenwich, as he revealed what he thought were his reasons for the sad decline of Meantime Brewery – a company that seems to have lost its way in the corporate world of Asahi Brewing. I shall say no more, apart from observing that Meantime beers have become increasingly rare in both bars, and on supermarket shelves – although they still seem to contract brew for M&S.
It was an enjoyable evening, with some excellent beers and some equally fine pizza. The most important aspect though, was the chance to catch up with fellow Guild members, many of whom I hadn’t seen since the summer party, at London Fields Brewery, three years previously.